America (West Side Story)
This document is the lyrics of the song America extracts from the movie West Side Story - America (West Side Story) introduction. This movie is a musical directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise in 1961. It sets in NY in the 50’s. It deals with a confrontation between two rival gangs : the Jets (american) and the Sharks (Portorican). It also deals with a love story between Tony and Maria. Their love story is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the two lovers belong to different groups. The song America was write by Stephen Sondheim and composed by Leonard Bernstein.
During the scene, the portorican girls support the life in America whereas the portorican boys criticise it. To study this song, I’m going to present in a first part the life in Puerto Rico and then in a second part the life in the US. And to finish, in a third part, the boy’s intention. I – The life in Puerto Rico (l. 1 to l. 7) => The climate : There are a lot of hurricanes which destroy the houses and the plantations. It is also very hot, so hot that it must be difficult to work. => The working conditions : In Puerto Rico, they are waiting for jobs.
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A lot of people are unemployed or even if they have a job, they are low-paid and they have to borrow (emprunter) money from the banks. They are exploited and indebted. => The birth rate : The birth rate is very high. The portoricans are Catholic and they don’t know anything about the birth control or the means of contraception. There are more and more mouths to feed and more and more unemployment. Consequently, they have to emigrate, mainly to the US, in order to have a better life. It was easy for them to get the American citizenship because Puerto Rico depended on the USA.
It is a negative image of Puerto Rico. Maria criticises it and yet she says “my heart’s devotion” (l. 1) but she is ironical. She prefers the life in the US and doesn’t care if P. Rico disappears because she says “let it sink back in the ocean”. II – The life in the US (l. 8 to l. 31) ? Girl’s opinion : The girls say that it’s a better life because there is more freedom (“free to be anything you choose”), you can become whoever you want. The life is more comfortable, you can have your own washing machine, and there is more space because you can have big and good apartments.
There is no more unemployment because of the “industry boom” (l. 15) so there is more job opportunities, more chances to become someone socially. For the girls, the US are a land of freedom and pride. ? Boy’s opinion : For them, everywhere in America, they suffer from racial discrimination. At work because they can just access to low-paid jobs. In housing because their requests to have a house are refused. In the street and shops because of their skin colour and their accent. They have low-paid jobs and they can’t afford big apartments so they have to live in promiscuity (“twelve in a room in america”).
Moreover they can’t afford clothes so the washing machine is useless (“what will you have, though, to keep clean”). The life in America isn’t as good as the girls say because it’s violent and dangerous (“organized crime in America”) and dirty (“everywhere grime in America”). The girls believe in the American dream whereas the boys are disillusioned and pessimistic. III – The boy’s intention (l. 32 to the end) The boys intends to (ont l’intention de) go back to San Juan in Puerto Rico because settling down in America didn’t bring any real changes. Moreover, they can’t stand the racial discrimination anymore.
They expects to be cheerfully welcome in San Juan. Maria pretends not to care about it, she pretends not to be upset (contrariee). She has the last words with “Everyone there will have moved here” l35. She means that all the portoricans are sensible (senses) enough to understand that their future is in the US. Conclusion To conclude the life in the US and the life in Puerto Rico are confronted because of the situation. The girls support the America but the boys underline the fact that even if they found liberty and pride in the US, they are still confronted to poverty and they suffer from racism and violence.
Maria conclude with the fact that all the portoricans in Puerto Rico would be in the US. However, I can understand that the boys don’t feel good in America and want go back to Puerto Rico because even if they will be poor, it’s their land. They should feel better with portoricans than with american. It’s up to them to make a choice but I think that their survival instinct will lead them to America because they will have more chance to succeed than in Puerto Rico.